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Shot in the arm for Gweru sex workers

The Centre for Sexual Health and HIV and Aids Research in Zimbabwe (CeSHHAR) has come up with a cocktail of strategies, including community empowerment approaches, with the aim of reducing the risk of acquiring HIV among sex workers.

CeSHHAR is an Aids-based organisation that works together with the National Aids Council (NAC) to empower sex workers to improve their sexual and reproductive health.

In Zimbabwe, sex workers face criminalisation, violence, discrimination and other forms of human rights violations, which increase their risk of acquiring HIV.

According to UNAids, HIV prevalence among sex workers is 10 times higher than among the general population, and sex workers are poorly served by HIV services.

It is against this backdrop that CeSHHAR has mobilised young sex workers in Gweru and surrounding communities for community empowerment services that are aimed
at reducing violence, stigma and discrimination, including sensitisation training.

Part of the programme includes enlisting peer educators to assist in the distribution of condoms, information on sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV
prevention, paralegal services and health service referrals.

A recent visit to a CeSHHAR project at GWAPA Farm in Gweru by a team of journalists, courtesy of NAC, showed that the organisation had gone a gear up through
improving sex workers’ access to economic resources.

“We have among our projects the economic strengthening training which is ongoing for a group of sex workers here in Gweru,” said CeSHHAR outreach worker Sekai
Dembaremba.

“We have a group of 30 sex workers aged between 15 and 24 years who are part of the training. The training is meant to impart in the sex workers the financial,
marketing and business skills necessary to help their businesses grow.”

NAC Gweru district co-ordinator Murari Hwingwiri described the economic strengthening training as one of the many approaches that seek to help sex workers
confront their economic vulnerability.

“The project is aimed at empowering these girls economically to address their vulnerabilities on economic factors. Studies from other countries show that this
is one approach that tries to address the economic vulnerability that puts sex workers at increased risk of acquiring HIV,” Hwingwiri said.

Hwingwiri said more than 3 500 sex workers in Gweru were accessing health services from the CeSHHAR clinic.

“Sex workers usually complain that they are discriminated against at health institutions, hence, through CeSHHAR, health and other issues affecting them can
be dealt with through their own platform,” he said.

Services offered at the clinic include free STI treatment, HIV testing, family planning, mobilisation for prep (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and antiretroviral
therapy, condoms both male and female, and legal advice through partnerships with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).

Sex workers have been identified as a key population in the global fight against Aids.

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